Jason Chambers: As you may know, Narrative Magazine recently announced the three winners of their Love Story Competition. As something of a departure, the Three Guys decided that we would take a look at the winning stories, with each Guy reviewing one. After all who could know more about love than the Three Guys? We’ve also linked to the stories below each review. Be sure to check them out. JR’s up first…
Conversations You Have at Twenty – Maud Newton –
Narrative Magazine Love Story Second Place
Jason Rice: Maud Newton has been a vital force in the blog world for awhile now and for some reason I got an email from Narrative Magazine announcing the winners of their Love Story Contest where she received second prize. Over time I feel like I’d read the first paragraph of this story on her blog, or somewhere else and I never got around to reading the whole story.
Sometimes stories about love and relationships can be either painfully uncomfortable or wildly funny but it is rare when a story combines both. Ms. Newton calls this a memoir, but it seems to be drawn from something personal and by calling it a “memoir” then it should remind the viewer that she might be shading this story from her life.
When you read these tightly focused tales of woe, there is a wild moment when you realize that Maud really is chasing her boyfriend around the apartment with a kitchen knife or slamming her door in her apartment waking the junkie next door. This stuff hurts her physically, and you can almost see the tears stream down her face and the makeup drying in puddles under her eyes. I felt like I was standing just off frame of these events watching this woman and her boyfriends chase each other in circles. This is all done with out a sliver of special effect or lengthy digressions of inner turmoil. She says it and shows it equally, which is thrilling to witness in a story about a girl who dates her roommate’s best friend.
There is nothing like a mother in law showing up at your apartment that you live in with your boyfriend. Newton delivers this parental intrusion with embarrassing grotesque candor. The mother in-law is a slut, as her son openly professes, while quickly hiding his stack of Playboy magazines. Maud is a self proclaimed feminist who can’t shake the pull of a man — either through violent confrontations or copious fornication which is carefully shoehorned into this Valentine’s Day gone wrong. But the mother in-law is given rough treatment, as Newton cuts her down with one line:
“Mindy feathered her hair back in a style ten years of out of vogue.”
I’d follow the characters in this story almost anywhere, especially Maud who develops “Grave’s Disease” late in proceedings which could explain her overwhelming desire to have sex with every man she knows, as often as possible. What she doesn’t explain is how she gets out of the living situation that crops up towards the end of the story, especially when she breaks the door of her own apartment and is forced to climb out the window to come and go. This story is funny because it’s true and funny because it’s sad.
Conversations You Have At Twenty
Blackout – Janet Burroway –
Narrative Magazine Love Story Third Place
Dennis Haritou: I’m bringing Blackout, a short story by Janet Burroway, to your attention which it certainly deserves. Short stories are like capsules dropped into our watery mental states. They become saturated and expand, revealing for a moment a world that we didn’t know existed and that we, improbably enough, suddenly find ourselves caring very much about if we are fortunate enough to encounter a story as good as this one. This story won third prize in a competition. It gets my first prize.
In the case of Blackout, the short story is a time capsule, taking place in England during the later stages of World War II. We met Johnny Purdy, an American serviceman who has gotten himself adopted into the household of a rather grubby extended working class family with the Dickensian name of “Womble.” But in this turnip patch of dreariness there grows an exotic Belgian rose, Simone, who has lost everything…her family, her home and even parts of her memory and is “displaced” in her state of mind as well as in fact. She has been taken in by the Wombles for the duration.
There is a hope in this story that comes on like a prayer that one person can somehow be capable of really talking to and being listened to by another. For Johnny has something very important to tell Simone, something that he is just coming around to understanding himself about how even a dark freedom can be a gift that needs to be taken. How people can become entombed in the details of their lives, plenty of which are presented here: like the PX blessings that Johnny bestows on the hapless Wombles, Spearmint and Juicy Fruit and Hersheys with and without almonds and sometimes Mounds Bars and Baby Ruth and sometimes better a short life of love and honor rather than a long, banal one. Someone has to say that the safe choice is maybe not the best one. Read the damn story.
Interview with a Moron — Elizabeth Stuckley-French —
Narrative Magazine Love Story First Place
Jason Chambers: Out of the three winners recognized by Narrative, it falls to me to review Elizabeth Stuckley-French’s excellent Interview with a Moron, which may or may not reveal something about my colleagues’ collective sense of humor.
Interview with a Moron presents a take on filial relationships and psychology in 1890′s America. Younger brother J.D. visits enigmatic but disturbed Richard for the first time at the St. Bridget’s Home for the Feebleminded, where the latter has been institutionalized by their parents and seemingly abandoned. Visiting under the pretense of satisfying a requirement for his Senior Psychology Seminar (though only a Junior!) at Purdue, J.D.’s account of the interview is, at surface, clinical and restrained, yet the undercurrent swirls with raw emotion. Both he and Richard feel angry and betrayed by the other’s actions, reliving past transgressions and opening ancient wounds. The story unwinds gradually, with little forward action, but each report of the visit, and each childhood memory is a revelation that exposes their parents’ neglect and their own insecurities, but never reveals all. The exact nature of Richard’s malaise is undefined, as is the precise reason for his committal, and the real reason for J.D’s visit. J.D. imitates a scientist, trying to write cogent observation, but the unspoken in his report probably tells his psych professors as much about himself as his brother. He is lonesome and proud, sad and petty, but cannot express his emotions as clearly as his dissertation premise. His frustration spills out into his report.
During the interview, while J.D. Attempts to connect with his brother, he examines one of Richard’s inventions — a sculpture, tightly focused upon by a powerful telescope. After discussion, Richard admits that the point of the sculpture is not its content, but what is not there. That is the point about the brothers themselves: they are defined by what’s not there. This is a fine story which examines the struggle between brotherly rivalry and affection.
Interview With A Moron